Friday March 26, 1999
"The Full Monty" screenwriter Simon Beaufoy's first script was "Among Giants," which Sam Miller, in his feature directorial debut, has turned into another winning film that covers the same territory but with more seriousness and emotion. The result is an irresistible love story and celebration of camaraderie among men many would consider to be losers but who prove to be brave spirits.
Pete Postlethwaite has proceeded from one success to the next since winning international acclaim with "In the Name of the Father" as an Irishman wrongly imprisoned with his son. Here, he again is well-cast as Ray, middle-aged, divorced, struggling to survive in Sheffield, the faded Victorian English industrial city. He's managed to land a job as the foreman of a five-man crew that is to paint within three months 15 miles of immense, spidery electrical towers strung across the beautifully rugged Yorkshire countryside.
The work is grueling, tedious, risky and dicey in regard to how much and when Ray and his men get paid. Jobs, however, are hard to come by, and these men are adventurous. Ray and his best friend Steven (James Thornton), who's young enough to be his son, enjoy scaling Sheffield's famous cliffs, a much riskier business than climbing the towers. In both instances they achieve a sense of freedom and accomplishment that allows them an escape from the uncertainties and indignities of contemporary everyday existence as members of the British working class. Ray, Steven and their mates live close to the edge all the time, not just in their job, but in not knowing if or when the next one will be coming along.
This lack of financial security has made them direct and honest with one another and has intensified their sense of solidarity. They work hard, play hard and live in the present. Amid humor and good feelings the work proceeds. Then along comes Rachel Griffiths' Gerry, who is as resilient as she is pretty. No camp follower, she is as rugged, self-sufficient and straightforward as the men, an Australian backpacker hitchhiking and working her way across the country. The men are taken aback when she asks Ray for a job, and he gives her one, in part to please Steven, who he senses is attracted to her. (So versatile is Griffiths that you may not recognize her right away as the diffident Hilary in "Hilary and Jackie," for which she received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination.)
Unfortunately, Steven gets off on the wrong foot with Gerry, who in fact becomes drawn to the kindly, solid and mature Ray, much to his surprise. It's at this point that "Among Giants" really takes flight, charting the developing attraction between Ray and Gerry. In the process the film reveals the craggy Postlethwaite as a romantic leading man of unexpected effectiveness. He's in great shape, and his comfortable masculinity makes it completely understandable that Gerry, about half Ray's age, would be attracted to him. But has their relationship, for all its intensity, a future? Is Gerry really capable of settling down, and to what? Ray can't know what will happen to him beyond his present job, and since his divorce, he doesn't even have a place of his own, instead sharing a derelict Victorian row house with Steven.
"Among Giants" allows us to care deeply for Ray and Gerry, for they have the courage, Ray especially, to be so incredibly open with each other. For that matter, the film succeeds in getting us to care about all these characters, including Steven, who proves to have the capacity to outgrow being a jerk. You even can care about Ray's ex-wife (Sharon Bower), mother of his two children, a conflicted woman who doesn't want Ray but doesn't want anyone else to have him. Lennie James, Andy Serkis, Rob Jarvis and Alan Williams, each outstanding, play the other members of Ray's crew.
The beautiful primary locales of "Among Giants" and the very nature of the men's work ensure splendid visual opportunities, all of them well-realized by cinematographer Witold Stok. Yet equally potent is Tim Atack's folksy score, which includes a clutch of evocative country songs that heighten our sense that Ray and Gerry are so in touch with themselves that they live life with a fullness few people would dare attempt. No wonder the film is called "Among Giants."
Among Giants, 1999. R, for language and sexuality/nudity. A Fox Searchlight Pictures and Capitol Films presentation of a Kudos production. Director Sam Miller. Producer Stephen Garrett. Executive producer Jana Edelbaum. Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. Cinematographer Witold Stok. Editors Elen Pierce Lewis, Paul Green. Music Tim Atack. Costumes Stephanie Collie. Production designer Luana Hanson. Art director David Hindle. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll as Anna. Martin Vidnovic as The King. David Burnham, Alan Hong as Crown Prince. Ian Richardson as Sorcerer. Guy Pearce as Capt. Boyd. Robert Carlyle as Colqhoun. Jeffrey Jones as Col. Hart. David Arquette as Cleaves. Mina Mohammad-Khani as Mina. Clint Eastwood as Steve Everett. Isaiah Washington as Frank Beachum. Denis Leary as Bob Findley. Lisa Gay Hamilton as Bonnie. James Woods as Alan Mann. Sandra Bullock as Sarah. Ben Affleck as Ben. Maura Tierney as Bridget. Steve Zahn as Alan. Blythe Danner as Virginia. Ronny Cox as Hadley. Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll as Anna. Martin Vidnovic as The King. David Burnham, Alan Hong as Crown Prince. Ian Richardson as Sorcerer. Guy Pearce as Capt. Boyd. Robert Carlyle as Colqhoun. Jeffrey Jones as Col. Hart. David Arquette as Cleaves. Mina Mohammad-Khani as Mina. Clint Eastwood as Steve Everett. Isaiah Washington as Frank Beachum. Denis Leary as Bob Findley. Lisa Gay Hamilton as Bonnie. James Woods as Alan Mann. Sandra Bullock as Sarah. Ben Affleck as Ben. Maura Tierney as Bridget. Steve Zahn as Alan. Blythe Danner as Virginia. Ronny Cox as Hadley. Pete Postlethwaite as Ray. Rachel Griffiths as Gerry. James Thornton as Steve. Lennie James as Shovel.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun